Saturday, March 3, 2012

First By-Line for Future Foreign Correspondent

Who doesn't want this gig?

Once a year I speak to a class of young would-be journalists enrolled in Albany State's (SUNY) International Journalism class. It's a gig I love since I'm pretty passionate about talking writing, especially when I get to talk about myself. What's the one golden rule of journalism we all abide by? People love to talk about themselves! And anyone who has followed my career and enjoyed it, or anyone who simply thinks I'm an egocentric tool, knows full well how much I love to talk about myself.

But speaking to this class is a way for me to give back and to offer some practical advice about reporting from the field, be it Africa, Moscow, Italy, Turkey, Paris, or downtown Albany. There's no rush like filing a story and seeing it go live on-line or printed in a glossy magazine. It's a rush I truly miss now that I'm once again a full-time novelist.

What you're about to read is a piece that was written soon after my visit to the journalism class. It was originally submitted as a part of a mandatory class assignment, but when the class prof read it and chose it as her favorite, she decided to send it on to me. I liked it so much, and thought it so accomplished for a journalism neophyte, I offered to publish it here. And hey, it's all about me.

So, Kenny Gould, young journalist, congrats on your first, or at least, one of your first by-lines. May you enjoy thousands more. And like me, may you become utterly obsessed with words and lust publication even more than the opposite sex.

Author Vincent Zandri Speaks to International Journalism Class
by Kenny Gould

    It's rather fitting then that, along with sleeping pills, antibiotics, earplugs, and electrical converters, the "Vincent Zandri Survival Kit" conveniently includes condoms. Zandri didn't set out to give a politically correct "how-to" speech on how to be a journalist in a foreign nation. As a matter of fact, he hates the idea of making how-to guides. He didn't talk about the Five Ws of journalism, he talked about the Five Ws of his own experiences as a foreign corespondent. His speech was a bit scatterbrained at times, but it was brutally honest. By his own admission, if you're looking to be anything but lonely, always on the go, and in plenty of debt, you should quit journalism while you still have a chance to do so. Being a foreign corespondent isn't for you.
    You may be a stringer gathering information, a photojournalist grabbing stills, a reporter on camera, or the guy who sits down and write the news story. Whatever you can find work doing, take it. "The world is on a string. Dismiss opportunities at your own peril." In Zandri's experience, there are times where months can go by without getting a break. Other times you're swamped and scrambling to keep up with dozens of other journalists out there just like you, desperately trying to get the next big scoop.
    The world of foreign correspondence has changed, says Zandri. He's hardly the only person to feel that way. He started reporting before the digital revolution took over journalism. Before you needed to have a Twitter account. Nowadays a popular blog can circulate Facebook with breaking news before it hits CNN. "If it wasn't for social networking," Zandri says, "I'd be screwed." Writers are some of the most competitive artists out there. Any edge you can get, you should take.
    When all else fails, take a break. After years in the field, Zandri is using his stories and his experiences as a journalist to write novels. Using the same social media connections you've already established as a journalist makes getting yourself out there that much easier. His son Harrison is now following in his footsteps as a writer because of it. If novels aren't your thing, trade journalism is a great way to pay the bills, says Zandri. "There's always something out there interesting to someone. As a journalist, you need to learn to write interestingly about a tea bag if you need to."
    What should you take away from this? If anything, it's the simple fact that journalism, foreign or otherwise, is not a science. There's no one way to get out there or stay out there. There's no one path to take. Whatever path you do end up making for yourself won't be an easy one, says Zandri. But if that rush, that high, and those endorphins can keep you going, it's all worth it.


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